Unique HIV/AIDS complex serves the homeless

AChicago-based non-profit organization has given new meaning to affordable housing with its Phoenix House complex on the West Side, geared toward patients who are homeless. The $18 million, 66-unit apartment complex, at 1251 S. Sawyer Ave. in the North La

A Chicago-based, non-profit organization has given new meaning to affordable housing with its Phoenix House complex on the West Side geared toward patients who are homeless.

The $18 million, 66-unit apartment complex, at 1251 S. Sawyer Ave. in the North Lawndale community, was developed by AIDSCare Inc., and financed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for HIV/AIDS individuals, said John LeFlore, housing manager for Phoenix House.

The complex is comprised of three buildings: 16, 18 and 32 units, respectively.

“The Phoenix House consists of permanent residences for those infected with HIV/AIDS,” he said. “Rents are based on a resident’s income, so not everyone pays the same for rent.”

“Sure, someone homeless with this disease could live at a shelter, but they wouldn’t receive the same care as they would here,” LeFlore said. “Plus it is some comfort to patients when they are living around others battling the same disease.”

There are social service programs on-site for residents, as well as a computer lab and other amenities.

Phoenix House began construction four years ago and completed phase three of a five-phase project in January. Two more buildings for housing are scheduled soon.

Erasing stigmas AIDS patients often face is another reason Phoenix House is an ideal residence, said Kelley Carta, director of operations for the facility.

“There are families living here with small children, and it’s disheartening when kids are teased by other children because they found out about their mother’s health condition,” she said. “We have a lot of single moms living here. One thing great for kids living here is that they do not have to listen to cruel jokes because everyone is basically in the same boat.”

Not everyone is happy about Phoenix House being in North Lawndale, where it stretches nearly a block long.

Candice Perry, 40, who lives around the corner from the Phoenix House, said housing for HIV/AIDS patients should be located in isolated places.

“The Pacific Garden shelter was moved from downtown to the West Side (1458 S. Canal St.) in an isolated location because Mayor Daley didn’t want tourists to see them. So why couldn’t this housing complex be built over there as well?” Perry questioned. “Who wants to look at HIV/AIDS people especially when their condition changes for the worse?”

That’s all the more reason to have such a housing complex, LeFlore said. “A person infected with this disease sometimes cannot work, and that hurts their ability to take care of their family,” he said.

Loss of property value because of the Phoenix House complex concerns some North Lawndale.

“It might not be much, but at least I can say I am a homeowner,” said Jerald Nichols, 60, who lives in a two-bedroom frame house three blocks from Phoenix House. “I paid my house off five years ago and plan to leave it to my kids and grandkids. And I don’t want the value of it going down because I now live around a bunch of sick people.”

The facility is located in U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis’ 7th Congressional District. He supports it.

“I have been delighted with this program and what it is trying to accomplish,” Davis said. “Before the Phoenix House was built, there were community hearings held so we could find out how residents felt about it, and originally people embraced this project.”

And not all North Lawndale residents are opposed.

“I think it’s wonderful that such a place exists for HIV/AIDS patients, and I hope a few bad apples do not discourage more buildings like this one,” said Renay Lewis, 37. “I just think people have misconceptions about AIDS patients, and if they took the time to learn more about the disease, maybe their fear would go away.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is a difference between HIV and AIDS.

HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). HIV may be passed from one person to another when infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions come in contact with an uninfected person’s broken skin or mucous membranes. And infected pregnant women could pass HIV to their baby during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. Not everyone infected with HIV develops AIDS, although most do, according to CDC.

The CDC estimates that about 1.2 million U.S. residents are living with HIV or AIDS and about a quarter of them do not know they have it. It also estimates about 75 percent of the 40,000 new infections each year are in men and about 25 percent in women. About half of the new infections are in Blacks even though they make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau.

Photo by Defender/Worsom Robinson (In photo: from left, Kelly Carta, director of operations, John LeFlore, housing manager, and U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7th) discuss the importance of Phoenix House on the West Side.)

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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